Tough budget choices 'still not been decided'
CASH-STRAPPED North Somerset Council faces shaving an additional £39 million off its budget by 2018 – but admits it has yet to decide how the savings will be made.
The authority has already taken extensive steps to close a £47.3 million funding gap between 2011 and 2015.
But following a series of Government announcements earlier this year, the authority now expects to have to save £86.3 million by 2018 – nearly double that which was first expected.
Figures released in the authority's medium-term financial plan reveal that although it had identified £7.1 million of savings for the financial year 2013/14, a further £6.4 million of cuts are needed.
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A further £5.2 million of savings has also been identified for the financial year 2014/15, but a further £4.7 million still needs to be cut from budgets to balance the books.
In the financial year 2015/16 the authority anticipates having to make cuts of £11.6 million, followed by a further £10.8 million in 2016/17 and £8.4 million in 2017/18.
No details have been revealed about exactly where the additional savings will be made, but a fresh round of financial planning has already been launched.
North Somerset Council leader Councillor Nigel Ashton described the outlook as "gloomy".
The authority is facing a number of financial pressures including a reduction in government funding over the coming years.
The number of elderly people living in the district is also expected to rise by 30 per cent by 2020, with the cost of adult social care expected to soar.
The growing number of children in care is also contributing to 'significant cost pressures'.
Mr Ashton said that although he had held a number of meetings with ministers, North Somerset continued to be one of the worst funded local authorities.
Mr Ashton, above, said: "This is the most severe financial challenge the council has ever faced.
"The council has a good track record in making savings while improving its performance and the quality of its performance.
"However the scale of the challenge is significant and it is inevitable that some services will face reductions, possible cessation or closure, or be subject to charges."
It is possible that council tax bills, frozen for the last few years, may also have to rise in the future to help towards closing the funding gap.
The council will also consider whether it wants to continue with some council tax discounts, such as for vacant dwellings, following the Government's decision to scrap them.
Council chiefs say the authority will continue to streamline its business, remodel services and introduce more self-service for residents to reduce costs.
It will also be looking for local communities to step in and run services once provided by the authority.
The council's workforce is also expected to be reduced by almost 30 per cent – more than 600 employees – by the end of 2015.
Liberal Democrat opposition group leader Councillor Mike Bell, above right, said: "The budget challenge faced by the council is extremely serious and the continuing need for austerity at national level is having a deep impact upon local services."